KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Six years before upsetting a woman so much that she filed a complaint against him, a Knoxville Police Department patrolman's conduct toward another woman also raised eyebrows, records show.
But the 2010 formal review of KPD Officer Larry Presnell's conduct didn't go so far as the 2016 incident.
The woman who complained in 2010 against Presnell, lawyer Charmaine Nichols, elected not to pursue a formal investigation. She only wished that Presnell would leave her alone, she said.
In September, a WBIR investigation into sexual misconduct claims against KPD officers showed that the veteran officer was the subject of a complaint in 2016 by Knoxville grandmother Sheila Baker, who said he was harassing her. He retired soon after as KPD's Internal Affairs Unit was still looking into Baker's complaint, records show.
Baker spoke with 10News about the experience in a story in October.
It was after seeing that report that Nichols approached WBIR. She, too, said she'd been the victim of unwanted advances by Presnell back in 2010.
She contacted KPD to make an initial complaint, records show. Nichols and Presnell both submitted to department interviews, copies of which 10News has obtained.
But Nichols ultimately chose not to go any further. That ended the inquiry. No formal Internal Affairs investigation went forward.
Department administrators instructed the officer to stay away from Nichols, records show. He complied.
Still, Nichols said she now wonders if there were other women besides her and Baker who received unwanted attention from the officer.
Nichols' report of the 2010 incident and Baker's formal accusation from 2016 show numerous similarities in how Presnell approached the women and acted toward them, including seeking physical contact, WBIR's investigation shows.
KPD says it did everything it could in 2010 and 2016 when looking into Presnell's conduct.
It counseled him in 2010 and was still looking into his case in 2016 when he quit, KPD spokesman Scott Erland said.
"If the misconduct does not reach a level requiring true punitive measures such as suspensions, demotion or termination, they are counseled or reprimanded and it is expected that they will move forward and learn from the experience," Erland said in a written response to WBIR questions.
Further, Erland noted, Nichols said plainly she wasn't trying to get Presnell in trouble.
"The complainant indicated multiple times over the course of her statement to the Internal Affairs Unit that she did not want him to suffer any consequences, instead requesting only for the issue to be addressed," he wrote. "From the very beginning, her allegations were taken seriously by the Internal Affairs Unit, who handled her complaint exactly as she wished, counseled Presnell and brought the issue to an immediate resolution."
The former officer's personnel file dating to the early 1990s shows he often was commended for his work and received generally good evaluations. There's no mention in it of either the 2010 or 2016 complaints.
Presnell, 51, told WBIR he's moved on. What happened in the past is "old stuff," he said.
“All this is coming out now and I’ve dealt with it once, and now my family is having to deal with it again," he said.
WBIR began looking into complaints of sexual harassment and alleged misconduct by KPD officers in June after a veteran sergeant was recorded during roll call making vulgar remarks while drawing diagrams on a board about forced oral sex on a woman.
Veteran Sgt. Bobby Maxwell promptly resigned, but a department IA review into complaints made by Maxwell's lieutenant, Travis Brasfield, is still open. Brasfield, too, has resigned.
The actions of a few personnel, Chief Eve Thomas and Erland have said, do not represent the sterling conduct and service of hundreds of uniformed officers and staff.
Thomas declined to comment for this story. Erland said the events happened long before she became chief.
IT STARTED WITH A SPEEDING TICKET
Nichols was driving too fast on I-40 near West Hills on the afternoon of Oct. 19, 2010. She deserved a ticket, and Presnell gave her one, she recalled.
"There wasn't a whole lot of chitchat, it was pretty much all business," she said.
She noticed the motorcycle officer had a scar on his wrist. He said he'd been injured on the job the previous year and he had a worker's comp case pending.
He remarked that he was familiar with her neighborhood, she said. She later told KPD investigators in a sworn statement that he asked if she was in the phone book.
Nichols said the conversation was businesslike and she told him he could call her if he had any questions about the worker's comp claim. She said he told her it was being taken care of.
The stop ended and they parted, she told investigators in a subsequent 2010 interview obtained by 10News.
It was what he did afterward that bothered her, she said, including showing up the next afternoon at her South Knoxville house in uniform.
He introduced himself as the officer who had pulled her over the day before. She said he asked if she still had the ticket.
"It struck me as a little bit weird but I thought maybe he didn't do all his homework on his ticket," she told 10News. "I didn't really think of anything sinister at that time."
Presnell said he thought he'd made an error on the ticket, writing down that she was born in 1953 when he was sure she must have been born in 1963.
She confirmed he did indeed have the right birth year for her.
Nichols retrieved the green ticket from her car.
They talked some about the neighborhood and then he left.
Presnell showed up again the following evening.
She'd just gotten home and fixed herself a drink. She noticed Presnell was there. Nichols said she asked if he'd forgotten something.
He had her ticket, which he'd changed to a warning. He gave her the old citation.
Nichols told investigators she offered him a drink, which he declined because he was on duty.
They went on the porch, she said, and talked some more -- "light social conversation, nothing serious, nothing personal," as she told investigators. They talked about her work a bit and then he left.
But Presnell came back minutes later, appearing at her side door, which only friends usually used. Her dogs were barking. She said she screamed when she saw him.
Nichols said she asked him, "Did you forget something?"
"At this juncture he entered my foyer, and I stood there and he asked if it would be OK if he had a hug," she told investigators.
Nichols was startled. She said she wasn't sure how to respond. She felt like she was "in a quandary."
As he approached her, Nichols said she took his wrists and pressed backward. The lawyer said she asked Presnell if he was "OK."
"Then," she told 10News, "I knew there was a problem."
Nichols said she tried to make it clear she wasn't interested. She recalled him mentioning that he was going through a hard time. At that point he'd been married about six years, according to his estranged wife.
Nichols said she hoped by her reaction that he could see she wasn't interested in contact with him. They talked briefly and then he left, Nichols said.
The lawyer said she then got a call from the officer, apologizing for his behavior and hoping she wouldn't "take it out of context."
He mentioned his personal problems and asked if it would be alright if he called her. Nichols told investigators she explained that she had a boyfriend and wasn't interested.
Presnell, she recalled, said he wasn't necessarily interested in a physical relationship even though she was attractive for her age. She said she had to tend to a client on the other phone line and they hung up.
Neighbors later told her they'd seen a KPD car in her driveway a couple times while she was gone.
He would call her again, addressing her as, "Hey, sexy," she told investigators. She said she kept it businesslike and ended the conversation short because she needed to drive west.
She said he called again offering to help her with a case she had in another county.
The calls from Presnell continued, she told investigators. In one, she said, he left a message cautioning her about bad weather coming and said he wouldn't want her to be hurt by flying debris in her yard.
That call disturbed her, she said, but she didn't want to cause trouble so she moved on.
Then on the night of Nov. 9 while working at home, she heard what sounded like a vehicle outside. She saw a KPD cruiser outside the house.
"At this point I did not feel good," she recalled to investigators.
Presnell was at the door. She said she stepped outside and spoke briefly with him. Nichols said she told him she had to leave and then drove away.
She'd been relaying to friends and acquaintances what had been happening, she said. But, she told investigators, she didn't want to cause him harm. Nichols said she had other officers she knows in Sevier County listen to Presnell's messages, and they told her to report him to his superiors.
The final straw came on the afternoon of Nov. 22, 2010, when she was at home getting ready to take a shower. She told investigators she heard the dogs barking. She said she went to look and saw her side door was open a couple inches.
Presnell was standing at the door.
Nichols didn't talk to him, she said. Nichols went further back into the house and contacted a neighbor for help. She also called her boyfriend, who told her, "That is enough."
The lawyer said she then reported what had been going on to KPD.
Nichols told investigators she respected police officers and the job they do serving the public. She didn't think she'd given him signals that she wanted a relationship.
Nichols told investigators she wanted no more contact with Presnell.
"I had no reason to flirt with him over a damned speeding ticket," she said during her November 2010 interview with investigators.
Nichols contacted WBIR after seeing the station's interview with Baker about her 2016 encounter with Presnell.
Today, Nichols tells 10News she suspects he "stalked" other women while he was with the police force. She regrets that she didn't report him sooner back in 2010.
"I feel very foolish about it that I didn't report it immediately," she said. "I feel stupid. It makes you feel bad about yourself."
KPD TALKS TO PRESNELL
Department investigators talked with Presnell under oath after Nichols made her statement.
He recalled stopping her for speeding the prior month. He confirmed his conversation about his worker's comp injury, records show.
Presnell said Nichols gave him her business card.
He told investigators he voided the speeding ticket as a "professional courtesy."
He also recalled going to her house a few times after the stop. Nichols, he said, had remarked that a former client of hers had come by her house uninvited. He said he'd suggested she call the Police Department if she needed help.
The investigator asked Presnell if he had ever asked her for a hug.
"Yes, I did, yeah, yeah," he replied, according to the recorded interview.
He said he'd had some issues at home.
"It was nothing aggressive or nothing," he said. "I've been down that road and that's not a road I want to go down. It was nothing.
"Was it wrong? It probably was wrong."
He also confirmed he'd gone over to the house on the day she decided to make the complaint. Presnell said he'd been running some errands and decided to stop by.
The officer said he didn't think anyone was at home, so he left her a voice message alerting her that her door was "cracked open."
Investigators then warned Presnell it was time to stop calling or going to Nichols' house.
"I would go so far as to say that even if you bump into her somewhere, I would just turn around and leave," one told him, according to the recorded interview.
If there was any more contact, Presnell was told, he was advised to alert the department promptly.
"As it stands right now, we're inquiring about this right now on her behalf to see if we can come to a resolution..." one investigator said.
Presnell said there was no intent to have a relationship, telling investigators "if there was I wouldn't have told her I was married. I mean, you know what I mean?"
The interview concluded with investigators asking if the officer had any questions.
"No," he replied.
Presnell told 10News last month when contacted about his encounters with Nichols and Baker that "there's two sides to every story."
He noted that Nichols had offered him a drink during one of his early visits to her home. He declined comment about his request for a hug from Nichols.
INCIDENT IN 2016
In August 2016, Sheila Baker was home with her grandchildren when Presnell made a traffic stop outside her North Knoxville home. One of her grandsons was being unruly, so Baker said she called over to Presnell and asked if she could talk to him when he was done with the stop.
He agreed, she said.
Presnell, who was married, spoke with the boy and struck up a conversation with the grandmother, who was separated from her husband. Some of her grandchildren played in the yard as she spoke with the officer, she said.
"And then he said, 'Well, uh, do you mingle?' a transcript of the interview shows.
"And uh, I was like uh...mingle."
She began to think that his idea of mingling differed from hers, the transcript shows. When her husband showed up, she said, Presnell left.
The next morning, however, there was a knock on the door. Presnell had returned.
He seemed surprised that one of her grandchildren was at the house, according to the investigation. He'd assumed the child would be in school, but the woman said the child wouldn't be going to school until a couple days later.
"And I was still puzzled why he was still, you know, why he was even there, you know. So he walked off the side porch. Went to the gate. And I walked to the end of the porch and I was like, you know, I was like why is he even here, you know, that's what I was thinking. And then he asked me, he said, uh, 'So what did you think yesterday?' "
And I was like, huh, you know, I was like, What do you mean?'"
According to the woman, the officer began asking inappropriate personal questions about her breasts and private parts. She said she smacked him on the chest.
She became frightened. She said she didn't know how to respond. Finally, he left.
KPD's investigation would later show Presnell drove by her house 15 times that day, stopping three times. Presnell said the street by her house was a cut-through for him on patrols.
Two days later, he stopped back by in his patrol car, the investigation showed.
The woman said she told him, "You're gonna get somebody in trouble."
"And he said, 'Why?' and I said, 'Cause you're a married man and I'm married.' "
They spoke briefly, the investigation showed, and then he left, saying he'd come back.
The grandmother went to KPD on Aug. 15, 2016.
Several days later, Presnell came back. He asked her, the investigation showed, if she "ever got a wild hair."
She said she told him no and that such talk embarrassed her.
"And then he said, uh, 'Well, let me know if you ever get one and I'll drive by your house and wave and see if you're out, you know, check out the house and everything.' And then he left."
The woman told investigators she didn't want "trouble," but she was scared.
In his interview, Presnell told investigators he viewed his conversations with the woman as "flirting." He didn't recall talking about "mingling," he said.
He said he remembered some conversation about her breasts.
"We did talk about boobs, I think, but I don't remember exactly what I said about big or small or anything. Like I said, there was some conversation, adult conversation, but yeah."
He didn't remember making a specific reference to her private parts, "...but...that could come across," a transcript of his interview states.
He did remember her cautioning him about coming around. He said he didn't take that as a message that he should stop.
Presnell in his interview with KPD chalked up the incident to perhaps miscommunication on his part and hers. He wasn't stalking her, he said.
Baker told 10News last month the episode was especially difficult for her because a family member had sexually assaulted her when she was a child.
Her encounter with Presnell, in uniform, caused her to have nightmares, she said.
A sergeant ordered him after the interview not to go down the woman's street. Presnell said he would obey.
But his time at KPD was about over. On Oct. 7, 2016, he resigned, records show.
Baker told 10News she was disappointed with how the investigation played out.
"I don’t think it was right that he just resigned and he was all done with," she said. "They just let him resign."
As a result of Presnell's conduct, the Knox County District Attorney General's Office last year reviewed his case, records show.
DA Charme Allen ultimately decided in September 2018 against seeking charges, her letter to Chief Eve Thomas states.
"While it appears Lawrence Presnell's behavior was inappropriate based upon his position as a Knoxville Police Officer, this conduct does not rise to the level of a criminal offense this office would have the ability to successfully prosecute," Allen wrote.